Stitt happens, says CSM head coach
The shoulder-shruggingest football coach in America wants to win just as much as the next guy, but when your players are enduring the most demanding academic program in higher education, you’ve got to let some Stitt slide.
Lost both scout teams to a chemistry exam with 45 min. of practice left. Probably happens to Nick Saban all the time! #stitthappens— Bob Stitt (@CoachBobStitt) October 23, 2013
“Tuesday night I was sitting in my bedroom at home and I was upset because I want to win this game this week and I don’t get to finish practice,” Colorado School of Mines coach Bob Stitt said last week. “I wasn’t putting down Alabama, I was just going, ‘I bet Nick Saban doesn’t have to deal with this.’ It was something I had to deal with Tuesday night, and the sun did come up Wednesday morning and we were OK.”
They went on to beat Colorado Mesa on Saturday, too.
“Stitt happens,” as he likes to say on Twitter.
Stitt grew up in Summerfield, Kansas, which is the kind of place you measure in acres (217) because if you do so in square miles (0.34), it sounds like a place that doesn’t exist. With a population of 154, it barely does.
When he was in first grade, the coaches of the city’s high school football team let Stitt hold the water bottles. Over the course of the next 43 years, Stitt would advance from his first job on the sidelines to become an offensive coordinator at Doane College, Austin College and Harvard. He is now in his 14th season as head coach at Colorado School of Mines, a Division-II engineering school that many enter but few leave as graduates.
Harvard’s players had an easier time academically, he says. His big recruiting pitch is that if you stay five years and exhaust your eligibility, you’ll be a millionaire – that’s how well CSM engineers get paid.
“There’s a lot of wonderful institutions that are hard to get into, such as Harvard,” he says. “But this place is hard to stay. You won’t survive one semester if you don’t belong here. You’ve got to have a full commitment to academics. So the kids don’t have much time to think about football during the day, and then they have tests at night, so you may not even have their mind on football while they’re at practice. … Our kids don’t have time to eat. They don’t eat right. Their bodies get worn down.”
Mines had nine winning seasons in the 80 years before Stitt took over. The program is on pace for its 12th in the last 14 years, a monument to individuality in a sport that doesn’t place a high value on it.
“I’ve worked for guys that I would come up with something and they’d say, ‘Who else is doing it?’” Stitt said. “And I’d say, ‘Nobody,’ and they’d say, ‘No, we can’t. You gotta find out who else is doing it.’”
Tracking down who came up with this or that scheme in football can be a lot like rooting out the inventor of a guitar lick or a famous cliché. There are adoptions, adaptations, tweaks. But in any case Stitt was one of the very early practitioners of what you might now know as the “Chip Kelly” offense – spread ‘em out, snap it quick and don’t worry so much about the chess of it all. The strategy is based on the idea that defense is, by nature, a reactionary endeavor, so why not test opponents’ reaction times?
Mines averages 94 offensive snaps per game, which is the most in the NCAA of any division. The Orediggers (5-3) rank seventh in D-II with 533 yards per game.
By his own nature, Stitt is a bit of a reactionary himself. He likes to go with his gut, but it so happens that his instincts tend to be supported by statistical probability, making for a nice synergy at a school that recruits strictly math and science masterminds. He has read statistical analyses that suggest going for it on fourth down is always the right call. Though he doesn’t follow the numbers blindly, his team has gone for it 33 times this year — the third most attempts in Division II. The Orediggers have converted 20 of those tries.
“When we get to the minus-40, we’re four downs,” he said. “There’s not too many guys that are going to do that because they’re afraid of what the media is going to say, what the fans are going to say.”
That sense of individuality carries over onto Twitter, where Stitt operates his own (unverified) Twitter account with a sense of humor and irreverence not typically associated with his profession.
Since everyone is coming clean, I was given an extra corn dog at the Doane College cafeteria after a big game! #stitthappens— Bob Stitt (@CoachBobStitt) September 20, 2013
From a mainstream perspective, his work is obscure, but Stitt is to the coaching community what a great, yet maybe unmarketable, band is to the music scene. When West Virginia used a mysterious misdirection sweep to score 70 points in the 2012 Orange Bowl, coach Dana Holgersen admitted he was just sampling Stitt. All he had done was change the name from “fly” to “quick.”
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, another offensive innovator, is a Stitt fan too.
That shirt Sumlin and Leach are wearing is for sale on Stitt’s Web site, StittHappensFootball.com.
Ask him what that phrase means and he brings up a couple of improbable comebacks from years past. Down 28 to South Dakota with 10:30 left, the Orediggers force overtime. Then, down 17 to Fort Hays State with 1:32 to play, CSM wins.
”How does that happen,” he asks, but you know the answer: Stitt happens.
Stitt’s name has come up for FBS coordinator jobs in the past, most recently at Colorado. He has coached at every other NCAA level except Division-I and done well with his offense.
”I’ve got that burning desire to be at that next level before I retire and I’d love to go head-to-head with the best defensive coordinators in the country,” he said.
But then again, could Stitt happen if Stitt wasn’t in charge?
”That’s why I’ve been here so long,” he said “There’s so many situations where they’re like, why don’t you go take a coordinator job? So many things in my system work because I don’t have a head coach telling me no.”